Translated by: Ivayla Veleva
Published On: 28/07/2021

Original Article by Svilena Velcheva

If, by chance, there is pollution and import of genetically edited organisms in Europe, we may not find out because we do not have methods of detection, said the expert on sustainable agriculture Ivaylo Popov.

Ivailo has a master’s degree in law. He is a member of the Management Board of the environmental association “For the Earth”. Since 2011 he has been working on the topics of food and agriculture in the association. He is an expert on sustainable agriculture, GMO policies, the EU’s common agricultural policy and measures to promote small and medium-sized farmers. In Varna, he is in connection with an information campaign related to the threat of entering the market of new genetically edited organisms.

●Have we managed to overcome GMO, or has it become a part of our daily lives?

We’ve definitely managed to overcome GMOs. It is a fact that in Bulgaria GMO crops are not grown and, except in feed- not consumed. The problem is that we are facing a serious opponent and they do not give up. It is about the new GMOs, insisting on the same thing – not to be controlled, not to be tested enough for safety, not to be labeled so that they can be sold more. It will be, perhaps, an endless war, but the important thing is to win the battles and not allow them to go on , as is happening so far.

●In other words genetically modified organisms are being replaced and rebranded as genetically edited ones?

So far they have not been replaced, but the trends are as follows. The industry that makes them says they have nothing in common. Gene editing for them is not a modification, although the result is still modified DNA. They try to present them as something completely different. I do not expect a complete shift from  the classic GMOs being pushed form the market, leaving only the genetically edited ones. It may happen in the future, but it certainly won’t be soon.

●And what is the difference between modified and edited organisms?

The difference is technological, in the way the modification is made. Genetic editing does not require, although it is possible, to use genes from other organisms. Very often the manipulations that are done are with the DNA of the organism itself, for example to cut off some parts of the genetic chain. But it can also be used to edit genes from other species. On a practical level, there is not much difference, except that the editing can be targeted more precisely and become faster and easier technologically, and possibly cheaper.

●Are the threats the same?

Yes. To a large extent, the risks we have with GMOs are the same with genetic editing. Both the risks to the environment and the risks to human health from consumption are similar.

●At what stage is the entry of genetically edited organisms legally and in our lives?

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that they are regulated in the same way as GMOs. In practice, no applications have been submitted in Bulgaria and in the EU for import of such products. We currently do not have such products on the market. I am aware of two types of genetically edited organisms that are grown commercially – in the United States and in Canada. We don’t know if they have reached us. The big problem is that the methods for detecting GMO products and those for genetic editing are different. It is definitely much harder to find genetically edited products. At the moment, it is even believed that some of them cannot be detected. More public resources should be focused on research to develop ways of detection. According to the legislation it places on the market, it must present a method of detection. The issue is that if they are not present in the European market, but in the American one, and pollution and imports into Europe happen by chance, we may not be able to detect it at this time.

●What needs to be done to prevent GMOs from entering the market?

We must not allow changes in legislation, in the GMO Directive or in any of the regulations related to its implementation. And to urge the European Commission to fund more research to make sure we can detect genetically edited organisms.

●What are the threats at the moment?

For about 2 years now, the industry behind these organisms has been developing a very strong PR and lobbying campaign in the European institutions. They manage to raise the issue to a high enough political level that there is already talk of changing regulations. Stakeholders were consulted, but this was not public and not everyone could get involved, the industry had more say. We expect these processes to be reactivated in October, because during the summer season the policy also rests.

This material was created with the financial support of the European Union within the project Climate action by European citizens delivers for development CSO-LA / 2018 / 160048-1 / 23. The sole responsibility for the content lies with the organizers and under no circumstances can it be considered as reflecting the official opinion of the European Union.